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Multilingualism and occluded diversities within the superdiverse conditions of the United Arab Emirates: a study of the multiple language resources, practices and ideologies of young Emirati women

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posted on 2022-03-28, 10:32 authored by Gary Thomas O'Neill
This thesis by publication explores multilingual language choices in oracy and literacy in a superdiverse context, the Emirate of Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Much of the literature to date on multilingualism in superdiverse societies has been based on research conducted in contexts in which migration has risen rapidly in the last twenty years (e.g. London, UK or Antwerp, Belgium), bringing the opportunities and perceived threats of languages and cultures in contact, even though the traditional inhabitants of these countries represent the majority of the population, and their languages continue to be used and valorized. There is relatively little literature focusing on contexts in which recent accelerated migration has led to the minoritization of the resident dominant population and the marginalization of its language or dialect. One such context is the UAE, which is a quintessential superdiverse society in that the traditional inhabitants of the region are now a minority in their own country, albeit a powerful minority, and their variety of Arabic, Emirati Arabic, has become just one of many languages and dialects that are in daily use in its cities, including Dubai. The study examines how this superdiversity manifests itself in the language choices of young Emirati women. It employs an ethnographically-inspired methodology, incorporating both qualitative and quantitative methods, in order to describe the choices made by female Emirati undergraduates and graduates of a national university, in (varieties of) Arabic, English and other languages, and the reasons for these choices. It also explores the opportunities and tensions inherent in these language choices in an increasingly superdiverse context. The thesis consists of three main parts. Firstly, there is an analysis of Emirati women’s reported preferences with regard to reading and writing for pleasure in Arabic and English, along with their preferences regarding languages of university study. The study finds that predispositions developed in the home and at school significantly influence these women’s orientations towards Arabic or English, but also that leisure time interests developed through either language can influence their preferences. The second part of the thesis examines changes in language and literacy across three generations and then goes on to examine language choices in Emirati homes. It finds that there have been significant changes in terms of first and second languages used by Emiratis, along with a major change in literacy levels. With regard to languages of the home, the study finds that a variety of language ideologies affect home language policy. For some families, Emirati Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic index their identities as Arabs, Muslims and Emiratis, while English may be seen as an invasive force, necessary for economic development and personal success, but appropriate only outside the home. In contrast, other families adopt a language ideology, and home language policy, that sanction drawing on wider language repertoires while still identifying as Arab, Muslim and Emirati. The third part of the thesis is a case study of the language choices of one Emirati woman in her early thirties. The study finds that factors influencing language choice are complex and individual, and that while superdiversity may present many opportunities for Emirati citizens, there are also tensions, particularly for those Emiratis with links to other communities. Such Emiratis must constantly negotiate their identities using the linguistic choices at their disposal, either by aligning with the key indexicalities and ‘performing’ their Emirati identity, or by deliberately constructing other identities.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. 'Just a natural move towards English' - Gulf youth attitudes towards Arabic and English literacy ( O'Neill, 2014A) -- Chapter 3. Heritage, heteroglossia & home - multilingualism in Emirate families (O'Neill, 2016) -- Chapter 4. 'It's not comfortable being who I am' - multilingual identity in superdiverse Dubai (O'Neill, 2017) -- Chapter 5. Conclusion -- References -- Appendices.


Includes bibliographical references Thesis by publication.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Linguistics

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Ingrid Piller


Copyright Gary Thomas O’Neill 2017. Copyright disclaimer:




United Arab Emirates


1 online resource (219 pages)

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